Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy – This is the story of Julian West, an upper-class Bostonian who is put into a hypnotic trance in 1887 and wakes up in 2000, when the United States has become a socialist paradise. What’s interesting is that Bellamy never uses the word “socialist,” and according to the introduction by Robert Shurter, people in earlier times didn’t always realize that’s how Bellamy’s society operated. His character Dr. Leete compares the workforce of his time to the military of the nineteenth century, with everyone working for the government. He also mentions that there would be no benefit for corrupt government officials, but doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail about that. Basically, every person who is able to work is encouraged to enter a vocation for which they have aptitude, and then gives a certain number of years over to this job. Hours are adjusted to balance out the more and less taxing occupations, and everyone is given the same allotment of credit to spend on whatever they want. Sounds good to me, aside from the separate-but-equal treatment of women that Leete mentions, although I have to suspect it might not work out so serendipitously in real life. One problem we have in modern society is that the greedy capitalists are largely in charge of the government. Isn’t Mitt Romney, a man who could easily become our next President, exactly the kind of person the government is supposed to be protecting us against?
As a novel, Looking Backward is no great shakes. What plot and characterization there are involve West adapting to the new society and falling in love with the descendant of his old fiancée, but that isn’t much. It’s a pretty good read anyway, however, and presents its ideas in a fashion that’s easy to follow.